The Supreme Court verdict opening the doors of the celebrated Sabarimala temple to women of all ages, ending a decades old tradition and declaring the ban on women invalid, appears to be opening a Pandora's box.
The bench headed by recently retired chief justice Dipak Misra, declared null and void Clause 3(b) of the Hindu Places of Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules which bans the entry of women of menstrual age. The judgement, which pointed out that the gender discrimination against women is not an integral custom of Hinduism, also observed that the fundamental featureof the temple will not be affected by women entering there. And Justice DY Chandrachud, opined that any religious citual that questions the dignity of woman is unconstitutional. Justice RF Nariman also recorded in his judgement that the customs of Sabarimala should be subservient to the right of women to perform worship in temple. The sole woman member of the bench, Justice Indu Malhotra, in her dissenting judgement said that the court should keep away from religiously sensitive subjects, that applying logic in matters of religious faith is pointless. She added that in pluralistic India, even illogical customs have to be given freedom to exist, and also warned that this subject is not confined to Sabarimala alone and will have far-reaching repercussions.
The apex court judgement came on the petition filed in 2006 by Indian Young Lawyers Association. No doubt, the court verdict has to be honoured and implemented at any cost. And the government is bound to enforce it too. In that situation, when the mandala period of the Sabarimala temple is imminent, there is no meaning in questioning the government decision to take steps in deference to the court order. Even the parties who oppose the judgement now, would not have a different option if they were in power. There is no substance in the contention that it is because the ruling from is the LDF that a green signal is being given for violating Hindu religious customs and rituals. It is true that the affidavit filed by the state government during the hearing of the case contained the same contentions in line with those of the judgement. One cannot lose sight of the fact that left, liberal and feminist movements cannot take a stand different from that. At the same time, there will be many on the other side endorsing the views expressed by Justice Indu Malhotra in her dissenting judgement. And they have an equal right to declare their view aloud and to mobilize public opinion in their favour. There is nothing wrong if they exercise that right peacefully or move the apex court with a petition for a revision of the judgement. The parties that have filed such petitions are Nair Service Society (NSS) and National Ayyappa Bhaktajana Vanita Koottayma (National women Ayyappa worshippers collective). But the court has declined to grant urgent hearing to the revision petitions.
If these were the only events in this connection, there would be no room for anxiety. But problems arise when things have gone much further with some main political parties entering the scene trying to make troubled waters and then fishing out of it, with a clear eye on the 2019 general elections. A joint forum of different Hindu organizations, with the open support of Sangh parivar, is in an intense effort to ignite a massive agitation. Although overtly their struggle is against the left government, it is too easy to read that their finger of blame is pointed at the apex court's judgement. A situation in which those who do not have any faith in democracy, secularism or independent judiciary feel free to do anything, is dangerous and destructive. At the same time when the national leadership of Sangh parivar does not utter a word against the supreme court verdict, the misadventure of the state leadership is such that if it is not reined in, the atmosphere may even burst out as a caste war. Already SNDP supremo Vellappally Natesan has fired the first salvo against the savarna castes' agitation. If the Ezhavas who constitute the majority of Hindu society do not support it, the struggle will end up as merely a Nair/Namboothidi affair. And the UDF leadership should also ponder if their moves to put LDF in the dock in the issue and partake of upper caste votes in the process, won't eventually help the Fascists whom they treat as prime foe. Should the Sabarimala temple transform itself into a forward-backward caste enmity, it will involve a no small price being paid for that. Legal and moral struggle for any issue can be justified. But excessive action challenging rule of law, from whichever quarters it emerges, deserve to be defeated at any cost.